European Commission releases ‘remarkable’ rebound of economy report but is damning on public services

The publication of a damning report on Ireland’s public services was delayed until after polls closed at the end of last week.

Officials in the European Commission decided to hold back the lengthy and often critical report so as not to influence voters.

Although highlighting the strength of the economic recovery, the 89-page report criticises the lack of funding in education, the high cost of childcare and pointed to problems in housing, the increase in poverty and income inequality and the inadequacy of public transport in Dublin.

Similar reports for other EU member states were released Friday but the Commission confirmed that it delayed the Irish one.

It is likely that the report would have been seized on by Opposition parties, which have spent the campaign arguing that while the economy is on the mend, public services are still in crisis. The body said Ireland had experienced a “remarkable” economic turnaround over the last two years, and that the rebound had broadened.

Unemployment, debt and the deficit were falling, and the banks were improving, the Commission said. But it warned long-term unemployment and the low work intensity of households remained a concern, as did mortgage arrears.

Childcare, infrastructure and funding for education came in for criticism with the Commission warning that even though levels of educational achievement and attainment are fairly high, public funding for education is well below the EU average. Upskilling and reskilling opportunities remain insufficient, it said.

The Commission said relative poverty and income inequality has increased.

“The proportion of people living in households with very low work intensity continues to be high,” the report said. “Children in low work intensity households are directly affected by the risk of poverty or social exclusion.”

The Commission warned that the rate of severe material deprivation remained much higher than at the onset of the crisis in 2008, although it remained slightly under the EU average.

The proportion of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion fell to 30.3pc in 2014, but remains higher than the EU average.

Brussels argued that the limited availability and high cost of childcare hinder women from taking up work and stymies efforts to tackle child poverty.

“According to 2013 figures, the average fee for childcare nationally was €152 per child per week, amounting to almost €16,000 per year for a two-child family,” the report said.

“As a percentage of wages, net childcare costs in Ireland are among the highest in the EU. They were the second highest in the EU for couples and the highest for single parents.”

In addition, the report said seven years of sharply reduced government investment had taken its toll on the quality of the State’s infrastructure.

It said the shortage of mass transit around Dublin had led to increased traffic congestion, with an overall congestion level of 38pc, according to the recent TomTom roads index.

“If only peak morning and evening hours are considered, the congestions index surges to 81pc, ranking Dublin as the ninth most congested city of any size among more than 200 cities monitored by the index,” it said.

On housing the report warned constraints limiting the construction sector and the supply of housing could generate risks of “imbalances” if they are not resolved.

“These constraints are indeed being addressed but the extent to which announced measures will be effective and free of adverse unintended effects will need to be monitored,” it said.

And it said the adverse consequences arising from the housing supply shortage are exemplified by the surge in homelessness.

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